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School abuse claims continue to rise

We continue to see an increase in reports of allegations of abuse in the context of schools – an environment where society expects and demands that children are nurtured and kept safe.

The Age has recently reported that complaints of child sexual and physical abuse in the education sector, including early childhood education, have spiked, with the Commission for Children and Young People (“the Commission”) reporting its figures for the 2019-2020 year. The Commission reported it received 181 complaints of physical violence in the education sector and 210 complaints of sexual misconduct. In the early childhood education sector, they received 264 complaints of physical violence, 51 complaints of neglect and 54 complaints of emotional or psychological harm to a child.

The Age reports that the Commission referred 191 complaints about registered teachers to the regulatory body, the Victorian Institute of Teaching.

Despite these alarming figures, the Commission praised schools and organisations for making improvements in the right direction to ensure the safety of children at school.

A growing number of abuse law clients report at RCT being abused at school in a variety of settings. RCT has long seen reports of abuse by clergy at religious schools, but in more recent times has also seen a rise in the number of clients reporting abuse by teachers (and sometimes other students) at government-operated schools, including a number of small regional schools, as well as private/independent schools.

A common thread amongst school abuse claims where the perpetrator of the abuse is the client’s teacher, is the manipulation by the teacher of their position of power and authority over our client. Oftentimes, clients have reported that the abuse started after a period of grooming whereby the teacher showed special treatment towards them which allowed a more intimate and trusting relationship to develop.

Whilst many reports of such abuse are historical in nature, RCT has also seen reports of school abuse that occurred in more recent years as well. Certainly, based on the figures reported by the Commission, this does not appear to be a purely historical issue and is rather something that continues to pervade the education realm.